Volleyball wins Courtyard Classic

Tech’s volleyball team followed up the Thursday night football victory over Clemson with a home win of their own over Clemson, as the Jackets prevailed in five sets (25-21, 23-25, 25-16, 15-25, 15-8) in their first ACC game on Friday night. A day later, the Jackets defeated Southeast Missouri State and Ole Miss to win the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic as they swept their second home invitational tournament of 2009.

Against Clemson, the Jackets’ offensive balance proved to be key as they held off the Tigers to earn their first ACC victory. Four players finished the match with at least 10 kills, led by sophomore outside hitter Bailey Hunter’s 19. Senior middle blocker Brittany Roderick notched 15 kills and hit a team-high .619 for the match. Senior outside hitter Chrissy DeMichelis and freshman rightside hitter Monique Mead contributed 13 and 12 kills, respectively, and junior setter Mary Ashley Tippins had 57 assists.

“Our [middle hitters] did a heck of a job, and I have to take my hat off to them, because [Tippins] did a really nice job of keeping them involved in the offense, and it was just really nice to see them execute … I’m really proud of our middles for the way they showed up and played tonight,” said Head Coach Tonya Johnson.

“It’s nice that we have a versatile team, and it’s not just one player that’s not just the main hitter for us every time,” Hunter said.

The first set of the match against the Tigers was tightly contested between the two teams. The Jackets’ largest lead in the first set was just five points and their longest rally only lasted for four points, but they won the first set 25-21. Clemson kept the score close, but Tech trailed only once during the opening set and saw strong play from their front line as Roderick, Hunter, and DeMichelis combined for 14 kills in the set.

The Jackets got off to a slow start in the next set, dropping the first three points to Clemson, and they never recovered. Tech made several early attack errors as the Tigers built a four-point lead. The Jackets went on a late run to close the gap to 24-23, but the Tigers won the final point to tie the match at one game apiece.

“We had momentum because we had won the previous [game], but we just came out flat…When we come out flat in games, teams pounce on us, and we end up getting momentum and coming on strong too late,” Hunter said.

The Jackets won the third set by a 25-16 margin by getting a big lead early on. The Jackets reached set point after blocking three consecutive Clemson attacks for points, and Mead closed out the set with a spike for a kill.

Clemson rebounded and won the fourth set handily to send the match to a decisive fifth set. Tech stayed close early on, but after cutting the Tigers’ lead to 10-8, the Jackets did not win consecutive points in the rest of the set.

In the final set, Tech went down 3-2 but put together two five-point rallies with only two Clemson points in between to go up 12-5. Mead ended the match with a service ace to win the set and match for the Jackets.

The balanced attack was key for the Jackets, but they made a number of attack errors. A strong defensive effort helped to make up for the errors, though. Junior libero Jordan McCullers notched a career-high 25 digs, and the team’s net play was solid.

“In the end, we executed, and that’s what we’ve been talking about…finishing the game, finishing the match,” Johnson said.

The victory gave the Jackets an early edge in the conference standings. They now sit atop the conference at 1-0 in ACC play.

“It was huge for us, because we want to be 1-0 and on top of the ACC…To be on the top for two weeks and sitting golden is definitely nice for us…I know a lot of teams that were ranked higher than us will be 0-0 after tonight,” Hunter said.

Tech faced a tough battle the next day against Southeast Missouri State, but the Jackets managed to pull out a victory in four sets (26-24, 22-25, 25-13, 25-20).

The first set was close throughout, with the Jackets and Redhawks ending up tied 13 times in the set. The Jackets pulled ahead at the very end, and Hunter’s seventh kill of the set gave Tech a 26-24 victory and an early lead.

The Jackets won six consecutive points to go up 7-2 in the second set. Down 11-7, SEMO went on a 10-3 run to turn a four-point deficit into a three-point lead, and the Jackets were unable to gain any momentum late in the set as the Redhawks tied the match.

After SEMO pulled ahead 4-3 in the third set, Tech got two kills from DeMichelis and two service aces from Mead to power a seven-point run. The Jackets rode that momentum to a 25-13 set victory.

The Redhawks built lead in the fourth set, but Tech battled back to tie the score at 18, then won four straight points. Tech took the final set 25-20 to win the match.

The balanced attack was a key to Tech’s victory again. Four players with at least 10 kills for the second straight game. Defensively, the team produced 68 digs, led by McCullers’ 24.

In the tournament finale against Ole Miss, both teams struggled on the attack. The teams combined for 57 attack errors as the visiting Rebels hit .087 and the Jackets hit .176; the offensive struggles were reflected in the teams’ defensive numbers, which included 25 block assists for Tech.

Neither team was able to break away in the first set. Tech held a slim lead for the majority of the set, but Ole Miss caught up at the end and took the first set 25-23.

The Rebels started strong in the second set and built up a 12-8 lead, but Tech fought back to force the set into tiebreak points. With Ole Miss up 28-27, the Jackets won three straight points to take the set and tie the match.

A six-point run put Tech ahead 6-3 in the third set, and a late 8-2 run gave the Jackets a 20-16 advantage. Tech won the set 25-18.

In the final set, the Jackets fell behind 8-6 but proceeded to win 17 of the next 22 points. A kill by sophomore middle blocker Asia Stawicka ended the set and the match in favor of the Jackets.

With the wins, the Jackets improved to 7-2 on the season, including a 1-0 mark in ACC play.

Roderick earned tournament MVP honors after contributing on all fronts in Tech’s sweep; she hit .429 for the weekend with 33 kills and seven digs while committing just six attack errors. On Monday, she was also named the ACC Player of the Week and became the second Tech player to win the award this year.